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Area lawmakers respond to judicial amendment

By Corene Brisendine

A bill and constitutional amendment that would give the governor more power in appointment of judges to the Kansas Court of Appeals and justices to the Kansas Supreme Court moved to the House on Wednesday after the Senate overwhelmingly approved it. But area lawmakers wonder whether the full House will feel as strongly.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it,” said Rep. Vern Swanson, a Republican who represents the 64th District, which includes most of the rural area of Riley County.

Under the current system, a panel composed of Kansas lawyers and governor appointed officials reviews potential candidates. The panel recommends three candidates to the governor for appointment. The governor may choose from one of those three candidates or reject those recommendations and request more.

State Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat, was among those opposing the bill in the Senate vote Wednesday. Two other area members of the House delegation, Manhattan representatives Sydney Carlin, a Democrat, and Tom Phillips, a Republican, have both previously also indicated they were concerned about the idea.

Swanson admitted he had not actually read the bill, but he said it looks like it is a “solution looking for a problem.”

The proposed bill and constitutional amendment would eliminate the review panel and allow the governor to make appointments. The Senate would confirm that appointment, similar to how the federal government appoints U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Phillips said he thinks the current process serves Kansas well, and does not see a need to change it. He said he is open to suggestions to changing the current process of selecting members to the panel. The Kansas Bar Association recently released a proposal expanding the panel to 15 members.

He said he is definitely not supportive of any bill or amendment that would “abandon the merit process” like the current bill would do.

Swanson said the proposed changes appear to be a reaction to the decisions coming out of the courts, and those decisions not aligning with the opinions of current administration and certain members in the legislative branches. He said he thinks that the court is functioning “as intended” by creating “checks and balances” to the legislative and administrative branches of Kansas government. He said to change the way judges are appointed would change that dynamic.

Carlin said she does not support it because it gives the governor too much power over the appointment process.

Although Phillips and Swanson currently do not support the bill, they both said they have not read the proposal fully, or listened to presentations outlining the “need” to change the current selection process.

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